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How to transport Christmas trees the right way

Millions of Americans risk car damage and collisions each year with unsafe Christmas tree tie-downs.

Whether your perfect tree resembles Charlie Brown’s simple spruce or something out of a Hallmark movie, you need a safe way of getting it home. The best tree safety steps involve securing the tree to a roof rack or stuffing it inside your car. But many people transport their trees in other ways that are simply dangerous.

The dangers of transporting Christmas trees

In 2018, Americans bought nearly 33 million real and 24 million artificial Christmas trees, according to the research site Statista. But in all the flurry of getting that tree home, many drivers pose safety dangers on the road.

Almost 37 million of the estimated 84 million Americans who plan to purchase a real Christmas tree this year won’t safely secure it to their vehicles, says a recent AAA report. Along with dangers to other drivers, car damage from transporting a tree could cost you up to $1,500.

Hazards to watch out for include:

  • Car damage like paint scratches or damaged window frames
  • Falling tree or tree branches
  • Car collisions
  • Injuries to drivers or pedestrians
  • Fines up to $5,000 for improperly secured items

Costs of getting your Christmas tree home

$150 for delivery

from online or local tree farm

$50 car transport

for installing a car roof rack

$50 pickup transport

for renting a pickup for 1 day

$50 DIY safety equipment

for flags, netting, etc.

$5,000 accident fines

for not securing your tree properly

How many car accidents are caused by Christmas trees?

It’s hard to say how much danger Christmas trees cause on the roads. However, 200,000 car accidents happened because of road debris from 2011 to 2014, according to the AAA survey. Almost 40,000 people were injured during those crashes.

Although the data doesn’t include specifics on Christmas trees, trees falling from cars are a common problem in California, says the California Highway Patrol to Fox Business.

Once that holiday tree turns into a dangerous projectile, a serious accident is hard to avoid. About 37% of deaths from road debris happen when drivers swerve to miss the falling object and lose control of their vehicles, states the AAA report.

What’s the safest way to get my Christmas tree home?

The best way to keep tree shopping a holly jolly experience is to secure the Christmas tree to your vehicle with one of these methods:

  • Secure it in a truck bed. Use a tonneau cover, sturdy ropes, steel hooks and ratchet straps or a cargo net to secure your tree in place. But ensure that each tie-down option has the capacity to hold your tree’s weight — or it could break free on the way home.
  • Tuck it in your car. Drive the biggest car you have or can borrow, such as an SUV or minivan. You may have to load up the tree on its side or let it peek through the sunroof. Also, make sure you choose a tree small enough to fit inside without much hassle.
  • Fasten it on a roof rack. To get that nostalgic rooftop ride home, your tree needs to be fastened to a roof rack with heavy ropes or ratchet straps. Make sure the tree is loaded with the trunk side toward the front of your car to reduce wind friction.

Securing a rope around the tree through your windows, or otherwise without a roof rack, is not safe.

  • Secure it with a net or red flag. If any part of your tree sticks out, you have the danger of tree branches coming loose unless you cover the tree with a net and tie down individual loose branches. If the tree sticks out of your truck bed, you’ll need to attach a red flag to warn other drivers. Many tree farms cover the tree with a net for free if you ask.
  • Ship it home on a delivery truck. Let the professionals take over your tree’s delivery. Christmas tree farms may offer to deliver your Christmas tree for you.
  • Buy an artificial tree. Take an artificial tree home from the store or buy it online. While many trees will come in secure boxes, an artificial tree involves the same hazards as real ones if you transport it fully assembled.

What should I do if my Christmas tree falls off my car?

The best holiday cheer can’t keep the worst from happening while driving your Christmas tree home. If your tree falls from your car, you’ll need to act quickly while staying safe:

  • Pull off the road and call the police. You might choose to rescue the tree yourself if it fell on a lightly traveled back road. But the safest method is to alert the police to retrieve the hazard or file an accident report.
  • Move the tree to a safe spot. With the police officer’s help, move the tree off the road while you’re dealing with the police and insurance reports.
  • Get medical help. If you or someone else is injured, call 911 for medical help right away.
  • Contact your insurance. Similarly as you would with any other accident, you’ll need to exchange insurance information if other people are involved. Take photos and file a claim as soon as possible, including how the accident happened and what kind of damage occurred.
  • Load up the tree. If your car suffered damage, let the tow truck know that you’re transporting the car and a Christmas tree. Otherwise, call friends, family or a rental car company if you need a car or materials like ratchet straps to get your tree home safely.

How did we find our Christmas tree transporting stats?

To find the best information and data on transporting Christmas trees, we first looked at data from a Statista survey with over 2,000 respondents aged 18 or over from January 7–9, 2019. The data is based on sales information for the National Christmas Tree Association. The final report was titled “Christmas Trees Sold in the United States from 2004 to 2018.”

Next, we compared the costs of car damage from Christmas trees, state fines and car accidents laid out by the AAA “Safely Transporting a Real Christmas Tree” fact sheet. The report was published in December 2019. Its limitations are common to surveys, including self-selecting for participants who tend to respond to online surveys, sampling errors and potential errors in the wording of questions.

Also, note that the number of Christmas trees bought doesn’t correlate with the number of people buying Christmas trees, since groups and families may buy trees together.

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